Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Describe It for Me

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to teach two young boys with blindness as well as other disabilities.  They taught me a new way of looking at the world and teaching.  The complications in teaching students with visual impairments or blindness go well beyond the inclusion of Braille.   How do you explain things like space exploration and planets, Native Americans, whales, the circulatory system, evaporation, volcanoes, exploration and discovery, the life cycle of a seed, state history, or solar power?  Suddenly, everything I know about teaching simply wasn’t enough.  I worked with the vision teachers from the district as we talked about each moment of the boys’ day and how to incorporate what I knew about teaching students with cognitive delays with what they knew about teaching students with blindness.  Together we created opportunities for all of the students. 

Though the process, we were seeking ways to make reading fiction meaningful and exciting given the books that their classes were reading in reading groups.  Then, a great gift arrived: an invitation from one of our local theaters to an “Audio Described” play.  I wasn’t really sure what it was or if it would be worth in but figured, why not.  So, permission slips in hand, transportation arranged, we set off.

At the show, we were given a small headset, similar to a Bluetooth headset for each student.  I asked that they let all of the students use one, even those without a vision disability as cool electronics are always desired.  Once situated, the lights went down and I heard a calm voice begin to whisper in the ears of my students.  It told them what was going to happen, what was on the set and what it was really supposed to be, and kept even my most “busy” students engaged.  Throughout the show the action and events were explained as well as the scene changes, costumes, and movement of the actors.  As I watched the show, I watched a group of students understand with the same level of depth as the other members of the audience.  No longer were they focused on understanding the language, facial expressions, costumes, or odd partial pieces of walls or furniture.  They got it! 

Tomorrow, I am again, permission slips in hand, heading to the theater for an “Audio Describe” performance.  There are two a year and the theater helps us work out a date that works with our school calendar.  Tomorrow, we will enjoy “Flat Stanley,” I will enjoy watching the kids receive the gift of language, theater, and magic.

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